The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, directed by Will Sharpe, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the electrifying eccentric Louis Wain. The biography charts Louis Wain’s life and his beautiful anthropomorphized cat drawings that paved the way for people opening their doors—and milk jugs—to the furry felines. It’s told in a tonal mix with colorful hues that showcase the frenzied temperament of the man. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain manages to be magical and heartfelt with moments of crushing sadness. 

Louis Wain Eccentricity On 10

After a brief, somber opening, the The Electrical Life of Louis Wain uses a train ride to illustrate Louis Wain’s personality. Louis Wain looks frazzled and roughed up from climbing into a pen with a bull at a country show. That news spread and would be a trending tweet in our times. Though a fast and talented artist, Louis Wain only draws to pay the bills while working toward other creative pursuits like his patents on electricity and opera. Even by today’s standards, Louis Wain is quirky, with peculiar foibles that would inspire fascination and irritation. 

But his personality also allows him to resist the rigid rules of society. He doesn’t accept rules for propriety’s sake; instead, letting his thoughts and feelings be his guide. Unfortunately, this does create a financial strain on his five sisters and mother.  But Louis Wain is, as the narrator describes, “the oldest and malest,” so the responsibility falls to him to be the breadwinner. Yet, he is the starving artist. 

When he meets the governess, Emily (Claire Foy), they fall in love. Despite his family’s collective anger given Emily’s lower status, they marry and start their life. Their affectionate conversations bring a glow inside your heart. They are so happy and sweet together, and that’s when they take in their first kitten that begins Louis Wain’s path. Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch give us a loving relationship with little conflict. Yet, it’s not out of place given the bouts of whimsy in the The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Wondrous Moments But Oh So Sad In Parts

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain image of Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Louis Wain in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Courtesy of TIFF

I love the magical, colorful elements incorporated into the The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, but those moments dim as the film progresses. Writing and storytelling are a peek into the creator’s mind, and art, similarly, shows us how an artist sees the world. When the work resonates, as Louis Wain’s work did, it becomes an indelible part of the culture of the time. Those moments of light existed when Emily and Louis lived their lives with cats. 

But the film also falters because the brightest parts are when Louis and Emily are together onscreen. Their banter was hilarious and so sweet as they circled each other. That spark fizzles as life interferes, and the tonal shifts from joy to sadness are disconcerting. Artists always face challenges as they focus on creating and become victims of predatory partners with ease. By the end of The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, I felt sad for the man who lived so long and lost so much. The film ends on a bittersweet note that captures the airy, more-than, extraordinary quality from earlier. 

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain starts is a mixture of emotions because that is what life is; joy, sadness, grief, magic, and wonder. Although the darker moments tugged at my heart, it was not misplaced. Like the man himself, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain encompasses so much. While I don’t think it does all of it well, especially in the latter half of the film, this is one I would watch again. As a cat lover, I loved learning about the artist who contributed to cats’ popularity. I did not know cats had a negative reputation. I’d recommend it for those who like their humor quirky and sweet, with a mix of darkness.